hacked: millions of links redirected

Tue 16 June 2009 13:30, Bas van den Beld hacked: millions of links redirected

With the growth of services comes the growth of url-shorteners. When you only have 140 characters you don't want to spend them on a very long url. The url-shorteners have become very popular, especcially those which lets you count the number of clicks.

Twurl, tinyurl,, bitly and are just a couple of the most popular services around. So far the url-shorteners don't really have a businessmodel, but we are waiting for them to start monetizing. If will do that has to be seen. Especcially after they got hacked this Sunday and are still trying to recover.

On their blog they announced that they had discovered a security hole in the editting functionality. This hole was used by an attacker who redirected no less than 2.2 million URLs. The Canadian hacker redirected all urls to a URL hosted on decided to restore all the urls by individually. However they also stated they hadn't back-ed up their most recent data, the last backup is from early May because the daily backups were turned off "for some reason". Data between May and now might therefore be lost. They haven't announced what they will do with the redirected urls if they can't be restored but removing them seems the best solution.

So far I can see that urls haven't been restored yet, a lot of urls I myself made are still redirecting. And they are "old" urls, from before December last year, so there should be a backup from that.


The hacking rises up new questions about the shortener tools. Are they safe? Apparently not, but also, are they usefull? They are usefull because they actually shorten the url, but there are some annoyances with it. For example you can't see the url its redirecting to, which makes it very usefull for spammers. Only recently there was a tweet about the disaster with the French plane where they sent visitors to a malware-site with a simple news-related tweet.

This is something which is a challenge for developers. How can we make the users see where they are going to without showing the entire url. Is that possible? Some plugins and scripts like Tr0y's  seem to have it figured out. Why can't the url-shorteners? Or even better: Why can't Twitter? How about not counting the url characters?

Another interesting question is whether or not this url-redirecting/ hacking will work in terms of search. We know it can provide a lot of traffic when (old) links are being clicked on, but will it help the rankings?

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